October 2016 

Happy Halloween from the 2016-2017 AFHA team!

As the burning red and blazing orange leafs turn and fall onto the ground, crumpled and brown, crushed by a parade of those seeking refuge from the city or by children at play in costume fantasy, the AFHA is busy buttoning down on projects and bracing for the coming winter. But we are never too tied up for a good newsletter about chestnut trees, bats, Breezey, and our sites of the month! 

Bringing Back the Chestnut

Monongahela National Forest Supervisor Clyde Thompson (right), and AFHA AmeriCorps member Joe Lancaster (left), plant two American Chestnut seedlings in front of the Monongahela Headquarters building in Elkins. The ceremonial trees are the result of efforts by the American Chestnut Foundation to develop a blight resistant strain. Lancaster recently transported a truck load of the experimental seedlings to West Virginia from the nursery in Chattanooga.

I've Gone a Little Batty: Bat Week at the YMCA

Kids at work at one of the may bat-craft activity stations at the YMCA rotary room.
By Aeriel Wauhob
AFHA AmeriCorps Member

If you haven’t heard, Bat Week was in full flight from October 24th to the 31st. What is Bat Week you ask? Bat Week is an annual, international celebration of these amazing flying mammals and how they play important roles in our ecosystem.  Once again, the USFWS West Virginia Field Office and AFHA AmeriCorps in Elkins held open house events to educate the public about bat biology and conservation efforts, joining hundreds of others across the United States and Canada to celebrate the wonderful world of bats.

You're probably thinking, "Eww, why would anyone want to throw a party for a bunch of flying rats?" Well...

  1. Bats are not “eww.” They are actually quite cute, with some having the faces of a fox.
  2. Bats are not "rats with wings." Yes, the bat is in the ancient group Laurasiatheria with modern relatives that include the shrew, but are also related to whales. The bat’s closest mammalian relative is still a mystery.
  3. Last, but surely not least, who wouldn’t want to throw a party in celebration of the only flying mammal that does so many important jobs in the ecosystem that humans benefit from?
Two children learning about bat sizes, weight, and eating habits from AFHA's Tom Fletcher.

Bats are the only mammal that can truly fly, making them a unique addition to the world’s ecosystem. Worldwide, there are more than 1,300 species of bats. That’s almost 20 percent of all mammal species! Bats can be found in all parts of the world, performing vital ecological services such as insect control, pollinating flowers, and seed dispersal. These bats are a natural insect control, eating thousands of insects per night to protect our farms, forests, and gardens. A single bat will eat up to its own body weight in insects each night! By protecting their crops and plants from insect pests, bats save farmers and forest managers billions of dollars each year. And yet bats still get a bad rap.

So I set out to change that.

My Bat Week open house events lasted two days and took flight with 10 interactive stations, each educating on bats or cave ecology, along with a conservation message. Some of the stations included: What’s Your Bat-titude - people guess true or false to common myths and facts about bats, Bat vs. Man – people could test their strengths like wing beats and eating ability to those of bats from around the world, and (the most popular station) a giant inflatable Bat Cave – aspiring bat biologist-imitated-spelunking while learning the importance of cave ecosystems.

AFHA member Mallory Gyovai answering questions about bats and cave ecosystems.

Over 250 people came out to learn about bat adaptations, create batty crafts, and win bat inspired prizes! Craig Stihler, West Virginia DNR Endangered Species Biologist, gave insightful short talks about the importance of bats in our local ecosystem, along with conservation strategies community members could implement on their private property. After hearing the bat talks and walking through the exhibits, the kids had a few things to say…

“Bats are so cute I just want to cuddle them all!” – six-year-old girl in a Batman outfit

“I don’t like bats, but they can hang around and eat the mosquitoes.” – ten-year-old boy who is still on the fence about bats

“Do bats have cars inside the cave?” – curious five-year-old-girl

“Would I really have to eat 145 Big Mac’s to eat as much as a bat?” – unconvinced fourteen year-old-girl

Many of the adults who came to the event commented that, when they were younger, they would see bats everywhere and now that’s not the case. The concerned locals came to the events to see what was happening to the bat population and how they could help bring back the natural bug repellent to their properties. By the time the attendees walked out the doors, they had a better appreciation for the winged mammals of the night.

Group of spelunkers inside the bat cave. 

In the end, the participants had a new bat-titude, batty swag, and some lucky raffle winners received bat boxes to install on their property in effort to help conserve these misunderstood creatures of the night. Now, Bat Week can settle down and hibernate till next year!

I would like to thank the people who helped me make this event the success it was. I could not have pulled it off without the support of my office and my AMAZING volunteers from the West Virginia DNR, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and AFHA AmeriCorps. A special thank you to Cathy and Jim for letting me borrow your bat supplies and to Craig for his wonderful bat talks!

(Clockwise from back-left: Brooke Andrew, Nicole Sadecky, Jason Aerni, Liza Morse, Mallory Gyovai, Tyler Winstead, Lauren Merrill. Breezey Snyder, Aeriel Wauhob, Tom Fletcher.

AFHA Member of the Month: Breezey Snyder

AFHA's Breezey Snyder 
By Tyler Winstead
AFHA AmeriCorps Member

Philadelphia native Breezey Snyder is an AFHA AmeriCorps team member working a second year with the Nature Conservancy. A graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University majoring in pre-professional zoology and chemistry, Snyder came across the AFHA, “just before graduation. I started looking into environmental restoration because I had gotten really interested in that and didn’t have much background in it.” Specifically, West Virginia was appealing as a convenient in-between for someone from Philadelphia and educated in Ohio but also promised to be “somewhere different.” Coming into the program as a recent graduate, Snyder did not find much adjustment necessary to her new position, “I’m surrounded by people of my age group and friends are sort of built into this bubble.” One notable difference Snyder notes, however, is that you “have to teach yourself. There’s nobody lecturing you, so you have to take the time to delve into things [and] that makes you self-driven.” The program also offers Snyder “boots on the ground experience,” which is something the academic world lacks. “In classes, you might learn instruments and such, but with AmeriCorps, it’s a better experience because you’ve actually done these things you learned about. That’s much more valued than just learning from a textbook.”

Snyder has actually undertaken somewhat similar service in the past, but in a location quite removed from the Appalachians. “I studied abroad in Northeast Australia for three months in a rain forest. The program revolved around learning about the animals, vegetation, and the social interacts around the forest.” That experience was a nostalgic callback for Snyder upon reading the AFHA posting, “In Australia, they had these similar concepts of cultural heritage, environmental restoration, and initiative that expands all the borders because that’s really how you bring an area back into its golden age or bring it to something new: rebound the area from something destructive. And so, when I read the AFHA posting, I thought, ‘this sounds like exactly what I want: a very diverse program that had all these different concepts devoted to it.’ You don’t see that sort of thing too often, and I really wanted to be a part of it.” Snyder also notes that an advantage to her TNC position over her service in Australia is actually having “hot, running water” and not “sharing a cabin with ten other people.”

Snyder considers animals to be one of her greatest passions, and she still finds a sense of zoological relevance in the AFHA, “With the zoology [degree], I studied more about ecology rather than any specific animal. With the nature conservancy, we’re doing spruce restoration, taking these forests that are now predominately hardwood but were formerly spruce and trying to help them eventually turn back to how they once were.” A memory of her first year with TNC that Snyder pulled from a plethora of others like it illustrates the sense of reward and accomplishment she finds in her work, “Back in the spring, we were working at this site pulling garlic mustard. There were a couple days in a row where we were driving along the forest road and we saw these bear cubs and their mother playing in the stream next to us. I had never seen a bear in the wild before, and it made me realize that we are working to make this forest healthy for them. By helping to get these forests back to the way they were thousands of years ago, we’re benefiting these animals in ways that nobody else would. Thinking about those bears gets me really excited to be in the woods and doing this sort of work that wouldn’t be getting done otherwise.”

Snyder picking garlic mustard, an invasive (and delicious) invasive species. Taken at Smoke Hole Canyon, spring 2016.

Snyder’s first year project with TNC involved vegetation indexing, utilizing GIS (geographic information system) software. “GIS is not user-friendly,” Snyder makes clear with a sigh of amused anguish, “there are lots of hidden errors, sometimes buttons aren’t labeled or do the same things, and the office computers often cannot handle it. But knowing these scientific things, being on the ground, and then trying to map the results from an aerial visual was a great experience.” Unfortunately, even though Snyder worked on troubleshooting the project “all winter,” the project “didn’t really work out. But it was great because in science you still learn a lot from false answers and it really forced me to learn the program.” GIS for a second year project is still on the table of possibilities, but Snyder is also considering other options. “Volunteers are such a vital resource to utilize, and the conservancy isn’t really doing that as well as we could. If someone would just put some time into it, it’d really help us reach our goals.” Snyder cites that working with the Nature Conservancy has also taught her valuable skills that translate exceptionally well in professional fields, “I’ve learned that in structured teams, there’s a dynamic to everyone. You really have to know how your teammates work best and how you work best, and find a common ground. It isn’t just about growing your own skills, either, but also how you can best meet the needs of your site.”

A returning AmeriCorps, Snyder cites first the landscape of West Virginia as a major reason she wanted to stay, “You’re going to see places no one else gets to see. It’s going to blow your mind. Knowing how important the work is made me want to stay. This is exactly what I want to be doing.” The people of West Virginia, too, have made Snyder feel a sense of belonging in the Mountain State, “The people I get to meet are really incredible. They’re from West Virginia, and that is a very friendly connotation, and the connection and welcoming atmosphere isn’t something I ever imagined and that’s really made it a wonderful experience.” Advice to incoming AmeriCorps which she would give to herself last year is simply “try harder to do more. Don’t just want to catch up on sleep. You have a limited time here and there’s so much to do.” Socially, Snyder also recommends branching out beyond your own site and team, “Being in the conservancy, it’s easy to get wrapped up with the people in that field, but reaching out more to the cultural development side of things really lets you see the diversity and beauty of the program.”

Aside from AFHA AmeriCorps, Snyder is a German speaking, crafts-loving, outdoors enthusiast. “The outside is sort of my spiritual place,” Snyder explains, “anything that gets me active in the environment is important to me; seeing how everything interacts, away from human noise and voices, it brings me peace.” West Virginia fits the bill perfectly for Snyder, who frequently engages in “hiking, kayaking, [biking], and recently, white water rafting.” When the temperature drops, Snyder enjoys “taking random items to make something new” through crafts such as sewing, latch hook (quilt making), and cross-stitch. Although she has never visited Germany, it is still on the agenda, “I studied [German] in middle and high school and I was really excited about it because my brother and mother would speak it to each other around the house, and I was like, ‘I can’t understand what you’re saying.’ It’s also part of my heritage, so I wanted to explore the German language and culture.” If you happen to see Snyder around, perhaps at trivia night or in front of a GameCube playing Super Smash Bros, greet her accordingly, “Ich verlangen eine Urteil durch Kampf.”

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Experience the heritage of your area! Sites of the Month spotlights events and locations within the region, based on AFHA's four themes: forestry, history, culture, and nature.

Swallow Falls State Park borders the beautiful Youghiogheny River and offers among the most breathtaking views in Maryland. The park is home to the 53 ft. high Muddy Creek Falls, the tallest drop waterfall in Maryland. Swallow Falls State Park contains the oldest eastern hemlock and white pine groves in Maryland. The 37 acre virgin section has been designated as a sensitive management area with trees thought to be over 350 years old. The park hosts countless opportunities for hiking, biking, picnicking, and camping.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is an antebellum state hospital that today serves as a snapshot into the history of psychiatric treatments, the Civil War, architecture, and much more. Located in the AFHA adjoining Lewis county, the site offers several themed tours through different sections of the grounds and is also well-known nationally for its annual haunted house.
Buxton & Landstreet Gallery & Studios serves as a lighthouse and showcase for regional fine art and artisans from Appalachia. The gallery, located just outside of Thomas, WV, features furniture, glassware, jewelry, ceramics, textiles and much more. Studio space is available for working artists, as well as workshops and custom classes for those who would like to learn a new skill. The building is open everyday excluding Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Lost World Caverns offers a 4-hour trip through more than a mile of chambers and passageways. Explorers of all ages are welcome, but some agility is required to make your way through the cave. Visitors to Lost World Caverns often emerge from their tour a little dirtier than when they began, but the adventure is usually worth it! Always remember: caves stay relatively the same temperature year-round. Caving a great way to enjoy unique natural wonders during the winter!
Do you have a suggestion for Sites of the Month? Email us at: info@appalachianforest.us and let us know your favorite sites throughout AFHA!
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Our mailing address is:
Appalachian Forest Heritage Area
P.O. Box 1206
Elkins, WV 26241